A short break on the Isle of Wight

Travel

Awash with seaside towns, no motorways, and beautiful rolling hills, the Isle of Wight is a wonderful haven from the hustle and bustle of mainland UK. If you’re after an easy, slow-paced break with lots of walks and outdoorsy activities, the Isle of Wight should definitely be considered. Outside of summer, it is also not too busy and you are spoilt by the sunsets.

We stayed for 4 days and 4 nights. Unfortunately 2 of those days were working days for us, but I think if you took that time off, 4 days would give you just about enough time to do the island justice.

Cowes

Not to be confused with East Cowes, Cowes is where we set up our base. Cowes and East Cowes are separated by the Medina River and are both very easy to get to. As a foot passenger you want the RedJet from Southampton, which takes you to Cowes. For car passengers, you want the Red Funnel that takes you to East Cowes, also from Southampton. Cowes is then about a 20 minute drive around the Medina.

Cowes (both East and west) was historically a Viking settlement, who used the Medina River for strategic raids on the mainland coasts. During Henry VIII’s reign, castles were built in both East and west Cowes, as the cities were frequently attacked by the French. In 1815, Cowes became the world’s first yachting centre, after the Royal Yacht Squadron was founded, and it is since then that Cowes’ nautical identity flourished.

Osbourne House

DINNER RECOMMENDATIONS The Coast and Gastronomy both blew us away. Both were nearly booked up when we made our reservations over a week beforehand, so a top tip is definitely to book early! The Coast serves a great selection of meats and seafood, pasta and vegetarian dishes. You’d be hard-pressed not to find something you like. Gastronomy serves a smaller fusion menu, all of it absolutely mouth-watering and beautifully served. The other place we had wanted to try, but didn’t get the chance, was Call It What You Want, which serves cajun-inspired food, beers and wines in a super relaxed setting.

COFFEE – By far the best coffee we had in Cowes was from Richmonds Bakery on Bath Street. They also make it incredibly hard to resist their cakes and treats, which are dangerously displayed in their bay windows as you walk past…

DRINKS – If you’re looking for a nice bar to grab a pre-dinner drink, or a sundowner, then check out The Winter Garden (which transforms into the Summer Garden in the summer), Harbour Kitchen, or Compass Bar. Another place that we had wanted to try but was closed is Mojacs, a wine bar tucked away and around the corner from The Coast.

The Needles

THINGS TO DO – English Heritage’s Osbourne House is by far one of the most popular things to do on the island. It’s in East Cowes and there is lots to explore, plenty of green space for picnics, and it really is an interesting piece of the island’s history. Carisbrooke Castle is another English Heritage site that’s quite popular, just outside of East Cowes.

If you’re after some fresh air, then there are a lot of walking options on the island. All very well sign-posted, you can’t turn a corner without seeing navigation route and cycle route markers. The National Trust owns a lot of the island’s green space, so it is definitely worth checking out their guides in advance.

Another iconic landmark to the island (and to GB, I’d argue) are The Needles. This area is also owned by The National Trust, and there is a visitors centre with a chairlift, mini golf, a viewing platform, and a coastal walk. We timed our trip for sunset, driving along Military Road from Ventnor to the Needles for epic cliff and sea views. Be warned, you are well and truly exposed to the elements, so wrap up warm, but the sunset is spectacular and it is totally worth the wind burn!

Other popular activities we found through our research were Blackgang Chime (a theme park), the Garlic Farm, Colebrook Bay, and Robin Hill Country Park.

Yarmouth – Day Trip

Yarmouth Pier

The pretty little town of Yarmouth is a great day trip from Cowes, and also from Lymington in the New Forest. The George, a pub that sits on the seafront and against Yarmouth Castle’s old walls is a great spot for food and drinks (or to stay the night). Lunch from Gossips Cafe is also a great option, or otherwise PO41 does excellent coffee and toasties.

Wander the cute little streets and pop your head into the delis, boutiques and bookshops before walking Yarmouth Pier, the last operational wooden pier in the British Isles, with lovely views over both Lymington and Yarmouth.

Ventnor – Day Trip

If, like me, antiques, coffee and seafront strolls are your cup of tea/(coffee?), then don’t miss Ventnor. It’s directly south of Cowes, and make sure you drive via Godshill, a very sweet and picturesque village en-route.

Ventnor has a lovely long seafront you can walk along, and definitely aim to finish your strolls at the Spyglass, an old pub that sits right on the edge of the cliffs with views out to sea. A very easy menu serving the likes of seafood, jacket potatoes, salads, sandwiches, etc, there’s something for everyone. The Spyglass also has local musicians come and perform on the weekends.

A Historical Stroll Through Winchester

Travel, Uncategorized

START: The Great Hall and Winchester Castle

The original castle site dates back to the Roman times. After William the Conqueror successfully invaded England (in 1066), he built one of the first Norman castles here in 1067. The Great Hall was built later, in 1222, and is the only part of the original castle that is still standing. The castle was a royal residence until the 1500’s when Elizabeth I became Queen.

You can do tours of the Great Hall, and see King Arthur’s round table here, as Winchester is believed to be the site of Camelot. At the back of the Hall is Queen Eleanor’s garden, beautiful in the summer, and a lovely and tranquil spot.

2. The Westgate

One of the two remaining gateways in Winchester, the Westgate used to be a debtors’ prison and is now a museum.

There are often family-friendly activities going on, and it’s a really good place to learn about the history of Winchester.

3. Winchester Cathedral

It goes without saying that Winchester Cathedral is one of Winchester’s top history spots. The original minster, Old Minster, was founded around 645, and the brick paths around it are where the Old Minster stood. The current structure is Norman, dating to the late 1000’s.  It is the burial place of King Alfred the Great, King Cnut, William the Conqueror’s son, and  Jane Austen (to name but a few!).

If you are visiting Winchester at Christmas, the Christmas market stalls are all around the Cathedral, and it is a truly magical time of year here. There’s also ice-skating, and the carols are also lovely to go to. I recommend picking up a mulled wine and having a wander to see all the Christmas lights about the city.

There is an admission fee for visiting the Cathedral, but it is well worth it.

4. Cheyney Court & Priory Gate

One of Winchester’s most iconic spots, picture-perfect Cheyney Court is the perfect summary of Winchester history. It dates to the 16th century, as a court for the Bishop, covering the Soke of Winchester.

Adjoining it is the 14th century Pilgrim’s Hall, which, after the 1600’s was used as a stable block. Look back (and up) once you’ve walked under the Priory Gate, as there is a small Porter’s Lodge above, which was the home of the Cathedral’s organist.

5. Kingsgate

The second medieval gate in Winchester, the Kingsgate as it stands today is believed to date as far back as the 12th century. Above the archway, on the first floor, is St Swithun-upon-Kingsgate church, one of the few gateway churches remaining. The Kingsgate was one of the gates into the medieval city, and the church used by the lay people.

There’s the lovely Kingsgate Bookshop inside the archway, with a selection of books, maps and prints available to purchase. If you’ve watched the recent Les Mis. film, you can see this stretch of Winchester when Hugh Jackman is fleeing from Russell Crowe near the beginning.

6. Jane Austen’s House & Winchester College

Passing through the Kingsgate, you turn left along College Street. On the right hand side, passing P & G Wells (Winchester’s oldest bookshop) on your right, is the yellow house where Jane Austen lived in her final years. It is said that Jane Austen and John Keats were both frequent visitors at P & G Wells.

Just along from Jane Austen’s house is the beautiful Winchester College. This is one of the many buildings of the College, which offers guided tours that cover much of its history and grounds.

7. Wolvesey Castle

Wolvesey Castle is an English Heritage site with free entry. It’s situated behind the Bishop of Winchester’s current residence, and you could completely miss it if you didn’t know it was there. You have to walk down a path along the side of the Bishop’s residence, and then all of a sudden, you’re amongst its magnificent ruins.

This was the palace of the medieval bishops of Winchester and was classed as one of the most important Norman palaces in the UK. It was used until the 1680’s and was sadly left to fall into ruin.

8. St Giles’ Hill

If you’re after a stunning view over central Winchester and it’s water meadows, St Giles’ Hill is where you want to go. Historically, the area around St Giles’ Hill and The Soke was the wealthy area of the city. At the top of the hill is a park where the ladies and gentlemen of Winchester would promenade around St Giles’ Hill. Definitely worth a visit, although the walk up is steep!

9. Chesil Rectory

The Chesil Rectory is another iconic landmark of Winchester. It dates back to between 1425 and 1450, and is the oldest commercial property in the city. During the Reformation, Henry VIII took over the Rectory and gave it to his daughter, Mary. When Mary got married to King Philip of Spain, she gifted it to the city as part payment for her lavish wedding (which was held at Winchester Cathedral).

It was left to deteriorate, to the point when it was nearly demolished, before being rescued and restored in 1892. It is now an award-winning restaurant, and definitely a must-go on your list of places to eat.

10. END: The Guildhall, King Alfred’s Statue & Abbey Gardens

King Alfred is considered the first King of England. Before him, England was split into kingdoms with different rulers, with Winchester as the capital of Wessex (Alfred’s kingdom). King Alfred is credited with successfully integrating the kingdoms to ‘create’ England. He is also credited with achieving peace with the Danes, who the Anglo-Saxons had continuously been at war with. King Alfred is buried at Winchester Cathedral, and his statue at the bottom of Winchester’s high street is both an iconic and symbolic landmark to the city.

Just in front of King Alfred’s statue is the Guildhall, and behind this, Abbey Gardens. St Johns House overlooks this too, as does the Mayor’s house. The Guildhall was built in 1873, and was built upon the site where a nunnery had been situated since before 899AD (built and founded by King Alfred’s wife, Aelswith). The nunnery later become known as St Mary’s Abbey, and its garden are where this route ends.

There are many more historical spots around Winchester, not to mention all the quaint side streets, but this route covers a fair few of them.